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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Gordon Grdina’s Haram - Night’s Quietest Hour (AttaBoyGirl Records, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

It took Canadian guitarist and oud player Gordon Grdina ten years to record the second album of his ensemble Haram, dedicated to the exploration of the Classic Arabic repertoire, beginning with Iraqi folk music and the great era of Egyptian radio music in which Oum Khalsoum and Farid Al Atrash, and now also covering Sudanese music from the '60s and '70s. Haram relies on the same ensemble that recorded its debut album, Her Eyes Illuminate (Songlines, 2012) - Canadian musicians from the Vancouver jazz scene with Syrian-born vocalist and ney player Emad Armoush, and with special guest, guitarist Marc Ribot, who joined Haram for two concerts in Vancouver just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit all.

Night’s Quietest Hour injects fresh, and sometimes even explosive doses of blues, funk and free jazz into the original Aiming compositions, but aiming to keep the spirit of tarab, the ecstatic feeling of elation inherent within these classic Arabic compositions. A few decades ago we called such meetings East Meets West (and vice versa), but Haram does much more. It is not a polite meeting between distant cultures, but the way Grdina and Haram assimilate these cultures and enrich each other, with deep respect for the original compositions and familiarity with the traditional forms and scales. Haram blends these traditions and finds similar sensibilities in the improvisation strategies in Arabic music and in jazz., in an effortless coihesion, The presence of the ever-inventive Ribot, who is not well-versed in Arabic music as the Haram musicians adds a bold sense of danger.

The opening “Longa Nahawand” relies on the four-beat longa and in the melodic mode nahawand, but the duet between Ribot and Grdina, who plays only the oud on this album, turns this classic form, made famous by famous Egyptian composer Riyâdh As-Sambâti, into a sensual, funky blues. The following “Sala Min Shaaraha A-Thahab” (سال من شعرها الذهب, old Streamed Down from Her Hair) by Sudanese singer Salah Ben Al Badiya, enjoys the hypnotic beat of drummer Kenton Loewen and percussionists Tim Gerwing and Liam MacDonal. Ribot adds a psychedelic aroma to the singing of Armoush and the driving beat and brings the song into a cathartic coda. The traditional “Dulab Bayati” is an instrumental, rhythmic piece in the form of dolab and in bayati maqam, attributed to Egyptian composer Muḥammad ᾽Abd al-Raḥīm al-Maslūb. It is interpreted as a series of fast calls - played by Grdina - and answers - by the Haram Ensemble, but when Ribot joins the ensemble he sends this rhythmic piece into stratospheric skies with a wild, distorted solo. Haram interprets one of the most famous and popular Arabic pieces “Lamma Bada Yatathanna” (لما بدا يتثنى, When She Begins to Sway), most likely based on a poem by Andalusian poet Lisan al-Din Ibn al-Khatib, in the poetic form muwashshah of the Nahawand maqam. Here Haram and Ribot improvise over the familiar theme and turn it into an ecstatic free jazz blowout. The last song “Hawj Erreeh” (حوج الريح, Violent Wind) by Sudanese singer Ahmad Al Jaberi becomes an infectious song, with Grdina and Ribot, intensifying the choros with an inspiring, tight duet.

Well worth the long waiting. A great record that demands more follow-ups.